One of my favourite things about living in London is that after 17 years there are still new places to discover. And now that I’m a middle-aged dad those places are no longer the latest club or bar but they are no less fun to find.
Yes there are fantastic museums and world-class art galleries, the latest on-trend shops and places that sell you nitrogen infused coffee (yes, that’s a real thing). There are also corners of the city where not a lot happens, where you can find peace and listen to friendly chatter and enjoy a nice simple cup of tea.
Weekends should now be about family time and pottering around garden centres. I say “should” because this weekend I woke up with a massive hangover after an ageing lads get together in Kingston on Thames. Oops.
So after I’d struggled through the first day of the Bank Holiday Weekend it was definitely time for a gentle stroll somewhere relaxing where Baby B could also have a run around in his new shoes.
The sun was blazing down as we got the bus to Mayow Park in Sydenham. This is a perfect city park, not too big to get lost in but enough to have a good range of different spaces: a playground, sports pitch, community garden, and picnic spots. It opened in 1878 so there are some old trees here, mostly pollarded oaks, that provide a rich habitat for insects and the birds that feed on them.
It is one of those places where the city hum recedes and you feel your shoulders relax. Baby B loved toddling round the paths, not always in the direction we wanted to go of course!
He made a little friend at the playground and found a nice tunnel to crawl through to add to his list of toddler achievements.
There is also a sweet cafe in the old cricket pavilion run by Brown and Green, who also run the station cafe in Crystal Palace.
Next we went to a hidden gem in Penge – The Alexandra Nurseries – which Mrs B has been to several times but was new to me. This is a quaint little garden centre that feels as if it’s been there for decades but actually only opened in 2012.
The plot is tiny, on the corner of two roads, but they have managed to pack in a pergola seating area adjoining a cafe and a little shop selling garden tools, niknaks and local honey, in addition to the wide range of plants and small shrubs.
The atmosphere is languid, succulent and soporific. I think to qualify as a hidden place you need to have that sensation of stepping out of the everyday world and into somewhere in-between. A place where time stands still.
Obviously it can’t be too secret or they’d go out of business, but I like the feeling of being off the well trodden road.
The nursery is in what would have been the garden of one of a row of Victorian cottages, which were built as social housing for the burgeoning working classes in the late 1800s, giving people who would otherwise been crammed into inner city slums somewhere to live a healthy life away from the City, and now still give the impression of being in a country village. They have become quite sought after in recent years, which would be highly amusing to the factory workers who once lived there.
Oblivious to the history around him Baby B scoffed his lunch and made friends with the clientele before picking up a brush and starting to sweep a shelf. I think he’s angling for his first Saturday job. So before he swept away anything breakable we quickly bought some plants and got the bus home.
Sorry if this post has been a bit ‘local’, but if you do ever find yourself lost in South East London and at a loose end you’ll know where to go!
Categories: Days out